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laundry temperature: hot, warm, or cold?

Washing clothes can be anything but simple at times.

Especially when it comes to choosing what temperature to wash clothes in.

If you've ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in, or put on a fresh pair of jeans that are still sporting the signs of last week's lunch, you know that washing clothes can get complicated now and then.

So you're probably wondering: Why shouldn't I just choose cold water for everything to keep things simple?

why all laundry shouldn't be washed in cold water

Sure, the quickest - and seemingly safest - way for washing whites, medium colors, and darks is to wash them all in cold water.

But the time you save in the short run may actually double the time you'll spend washing clothes in the long run. That's because clothes that don't get clean the first time around need to be rewashed to remove laundry stains.

In short: The wash-everything-in-cold method is a time saver that will cost you in the long run. Don't do it.

why the right laundry temperature is important

When washing clothes, the correct wash water temperature directly affects the performance of your laundry detergent, the wrinkling of your clothes, and the lifespan of those clothes. 

when to choose a hot water laundry temperature

Hot water (130 degrees F. or above; 54 degrees C. or above) is the best choice for white clothes, very dirty or greasy clothes, diapers, and sturdy fabrics that retain their dye.

You'll also want to choose hot water when you need some serious germ killing, such as on the bed sheets and pillowcases of family members suffering with a cold or the flu. Hot water can shrink or fade some clothes, so be sure to read the clothing care label before you wash so you know what you're working with.

when to choose a warm laundry temperature

Warm water (90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.) minimizes color fading and wrinkling, and does a good job in getting really grimy clothes clean.

Choose it for light colors that won't run, regular and sturdy fabrics, towels, jeans, cottons, sheets, sturdy play wear, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers, and moderately soiled clothes. Warm water provides for great cleaning of your clothes, while lessening the chance that they'll fade or shrink.

when to choose a cold water laundry temperature

Use cold water (80 degrees F.; 27 degrees C.) for dark or bright color clothes that may run or fade; and for delicate fabrics like washable silk, swimsuits, active wear, and lingerie. Washing in cold water will also minimize the shrinking of washable woolens.

Cold water washes are also okay for lightly soiled clothes. 

Always use cold water for blood stain removal, red wine stain removal, and coffee spills. Warm water could set these stains.

Finally, if you're going to do a cold water wash, check first for stains and pretreat stained areas as needed; your washing detergent doesn't clean heavily soiled areas as well in cold water.

Consider adding a bit more washing detergent to cold water washes to get those really dirty dark or bright colored clothes clean.

always chill on the rinse cycle

For the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of of loads. So use it! Another benefit: A cold water rinse saves energy per load by up to one-third, and helps minimize wrinkling in synthetic and sturdier fabrics.

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About the Author

Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.